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Wooster School Coronavirus Information

This page is designed as a hub for the Wooster School community regarding the coronavirus. All updates will be posted to this page, unless emergency communication is required.

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 24, 2020

Good Afternoon,

As we work our way through the second week of Spring Break, we'll be providing opportunities for community members to hear about our distance learning plans from the school leadership team. Please make note of the following webinars. Invitations for these Zoom webinars will be sent via email prior to the meetings.

School Community Webcast
Thursday, March 26, 7:00 - 8:00 pm
Matt Byrnes will share our process for preparation and frame the thinking that is guiding our efforts to transition to a distance learning format. Members of the Instructional Leadership team will then provide an overview of the schedule for learning and other elements of the instructional design and processes. Finally, participants will have an opportunity to send in questions for the panel.

Divisional Student Webcasts
Upper School, Friday, March 27, 10:00 - 10:45 am
Middle School, Friday, March 27, 1:00 - 1:45 pm
Matt Byrnes will share an overview of the thinking that has guided the development of the schedule and instructional design for students. Diane Martin and her team will then walk students through a "typical" day of distance learning, including expectations for maintaining an appropriate online presence, and guidelines for success.

Lower School Community Webcast
Friday, March 27, 3:00 - 3:45 pm
Parents and students will be invited to join Matt Byrnes, Antoinette Fornshell, and Lower School teachers as they walk them through a "typical" day of Lower School distance learning. After the presentation has concluded, participants will have an opportunity to send in questions for the panel.

Be well,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 19, 2020

Good morning,

I hope that this message finds you all feeling well and sticking to our national commitment to distancing ourselves from people outside our immediate family group, avoiding any physical contact or proximity with those above the age of 65, and practicing excellent health hygiene at all times. I was not planning on writing today, but this article made me think otherwise. Please read it, as it makes clear that everyone is at risk, not just the elderly. As I am sure that you have read and/or heard, contracting COVID-19 could likely require hospitalization, even a trip to the ICU, for younger people. The looming problem is that ICU beds and ventilators will soon be in short supply, so don't fool yourself into thinking that if you are under 65 you are "safe" in any way. It is everyone's job, right now, to work very hard not to be infected and to not infect others (as you may already be infected and not know it).

I suspect that now is the time when we might all start to feel safe if we haven't been directly impacted by the disease. This feeling of safety might lead us to relax the rules about no contact that we've established. Please don't go there. As we have learned through our studies of brain science and behavior, your brain is going to be trying to convince you to do the easy thing, to rationalize a slide back into "normal" routines. Resist. One great way to combat this is to work together within your family. Keep reminding each other that you've got to keep doing all of the right things. We are all in this together.

If we can suppress the spread of COVID-19 over these next few weeks, we can keep those hospital beds and ventilators available. Anyone under the age of 20 should be thinking about how important it is to not infect other people. This is Self-Help in action -- keep yourself safe, but also be responsible to the greater community. It's easy for us to talk about and practice in school, but now is the time to apply what you've learned in the real world. The Wooster community should stay safe because we already know how to do this.

Please also know that we are working hard to finalize plans for our virtual return to school on March 30th. We'll be sharing more information early next week and thank you for your patience. Now is the time to get creative -- play board games together online, play charades with your friends online, read more -- make figuring out how to connect in more creative ways your goal. Don't simply say "that won't work" when someone has an idea -- try it. If nothing else, the processing of proving that it won't work will take time and might even be fun. If all that ends up being produced are a few smiles, it is well worth the time.

All the best,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 17, 2020

Dear Wooster Community,

Yes, it's me again. I apologize for having become a more frequent emailer, but in the short term I am endeavoring to keep you informed about the school's thinking. Whenever possible, I will keep messages brief, but always with the assurance that more details are on the way. So here is the big news for this message:

Wooster School will be fully transitioning to a distance learning format upon our return from Spring Break on March 30, 2020, and is planning to continue with this format for six weeks, until May 11, 2020.

We've chosen a six-week program after our two-week Spring Break because most informed speculation (by epidemiologists, scientists, and other experts) predicts that our region is at the beginning of a six to eight week period of infection. Having a six-week window that coincides with the best thinking about the novel coronavirus also allows us to fully embrace a distance learning program. Additionally, should conditions prove to be more favorable than expected, we can always come back earlier.

In addition to the work that is already underway with teachers to Wooster-ize online learning, we are also working on plans to open up opportunities for socialization and other ways to keep connected "outside of the classroom," as we go through this new experience together. We'll also be reaching out to students and families for ideas about how we can best keep connected and have fun together. We've got a lot of ideas, and we are sure that you will too.

Finally, as plans develop, we will also be sharing information about program changes and cancellations that will be necessary due to the current conditions. At present, all field trips that were scheduled to happen before May 11, 2020 are canceled. To be clear, we are not "canceling the rest of the year" right now, as many colleges have done. That is not a criticism of colleges, but rather a recognition that our students and families are local and we have more flexibility and time to make these decisions. That said, we really don't know what conditions will dictate as the situation develops.

In closing, I'll share the guidelines that the leadership team here at school have been using to help us frame our thinking as we plan -- these are remarkably similar to those that we use under normal circumstances:

Keep students and their learning at the center of what we do.
Be flexible, adaptable, and innovative in our approach.
Communicate clearly, early, and often.
Seek feedback regularly.
Be compassionate in all things.
Have fun.
Keep it simple.

I would suggest that these are great guidelines to use at home as well. Above all, be patient with each other and do your best to keep things in perspective. Finally, thank you all for taking seriously your role in helping to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus by sacrificing physical proximity and many other familiar habits and experiences for what we all hope will be a relatively short period of time.

In closing, I would ask that you watch this video message from the people of Italy. Sobering, but hopeful. Let's continue to commit to doing the things that will keep us all safe, no matter how inconvenient, and we'll all get through this together.

Blue skies,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 14, 2020

Good Afternoon Parents,

Moments ago, I sent the below email to our Middle and Upper School students. I do wish for you to have this information as well, and ask parents of our youngest learners in grades 3 through 5 to share as appropriate.

Be well,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

Over the next few days we'll be sharing more information about our plans for learning after Spring Break, but I thought I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to point out the seriousness of the crisis that is unfolding around us and how important a role we can play in helping to slow the spread of the virus. For those of you who want a deeper dive into data, read through this analysis. If you want the shorter story, look at this interactive graphic.

In three days time, the number of cases in CT has gone from 1 to 12. Using some of the predictive models in this analysis, that means that it is likely that at least 100 people are infected in CT, we just don't know who the rest are yet. Without mitigation, this number will continue to grow exponentially, which means that it could be in the hundreds in the next few days, then the thousands, etc. At present, the part of the mitigation effort that we control is "social distancing." I read something today that pointed out that we should really call it "physical distancing" because with technology and other means we can still be social without being in close proximity to each other. So, if we want to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and keep ourselves safer, we need to be practicing physical distancing. How do we best do this?

I have found it helpful to think about it this way: Home should be your safe haven, where you don't have to worry so much about physical distancing. The reality is that it is nearly impossible to stay 6 feet apart at all times with multiple people in a house. If home is going to be a safe haven, however, everyone who is living in it must be practicing excellent physical distancing when they are outside the home, and doing everything possible to disinfect themselves and their belongings when they enter the home.

Before getting into the more practical advice, let's all admit that physical distancing is weird and awkward, particularly if you around people who don't seem to be aware that they should be practicing it too. When you think about the risks, though -- like if you shake hands, or let someone stand very close, or hug you, they might be passing the virus on to you -- and put them up against that momentary awkward moment, the choice is clear. EMBRACE THE AWKWARDNESS NOT THE PERSON! You can teach people too, so that they can change their own behaviors. It will all contribute to our societal effort to flatten the curve of infection, which is the most important thing right now.

So, over the next two weeks:

  • When you do leave home, do your best to keep a six foot distance between you and other people.
  • If you have to touch things like doorknobs or countertops, try to pull your sleeve over your hand, or wear gloves (some scientists are saying that the novel coronavirus can live on some surfaces for 9 days….). Remember to disinfect/wash the sleeve or glove when you get home.
  • If you have disinfectant in the car, give your hands a shot before coming back into your safe haven.

Other Suggestions:

  • Take two weeks off from any visits with friends. Seriously. You will survive (I'm not being ironic).
  • Stop complaining. We are all in this together. Your parents don't like it either. They actually like you better when you can go to school every day.
  • If you spend too much time on the internet or watching shows/movies, that is going to get boring too -- work in some books, projects, walking the dog, cooking, etc. This is a great time to try new things.
  • Learn more about the pandemic, but don't obsess on it -- try only to worry about what you control.

That's it for now. Yes, this is all totally crazy, sad, and scary in lots of ways. But it is really happening and our best defense is to be smart and control the things that we can. Keep socializing from a distance and take care of each other, and your parents, and siblings.

All the best,

Mr. Byrnes
Head of School

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 11, 2020

Dear Wooster Community,

I'd like to begin by thanking everyone -- students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators -- for their flexibility, positivity, and hard work in the face of this unprecedented situation involving COVID-19. Our first day of preparation for virtual learning was a great success, with our teachers digging in and embracing the challenges with their usual enthusiasm and creativity. I am again and again reminded of the advantages of being part of a community that is intelligent, pragmatic, and empathetic, while also being innovative and nimble.

I am writing today for a couple of reasons. The first is to provide some more context on the concept of social distancing, and why it is so important at this time. Here are several links -- one a short video which explains the concept very well, a definition, and another longer article found in the Economist magazine which goes into further depth about the spread of viruses within the context of this current health emergency. Finally, this interview with Professor Nicholas Christakis of Yale provides some useful insights into the value of proactive school closings.

I found all to be useful in better understanding the potential spread of the novel coronavirus and how we can make a difference as individuals, and collectively as a school community, in helping to mitigate that spread. This kind of information was useful in helping us to make the decision to shift to a virtual learning model this week. We'll continue to research and study the situation as it unfolds, and endeavor to make decisions that are in the best interests of the school and our individual and collective community members.

Community is our focus as we make our way through this unprecedented territory. We often use the terms gentle, generous, truthful, kind, and brave to describe the people whom we would like our children to be, and now is one of those times when these aspirations will be tested in all of us. Most of the testing, I hope, will be in smaller ways -- it is hard for everyone when the kids are not in school each day. It is far more difficult for teachers to facilitate the kinds of learning that we want happening, and it obviously puts a strain on families to have to account for the additional time and care involved. That said, we are all in this together -- along with the rest of the country, and the rest of the world. We are lucky in that we are part of a tight-knit school community and I am confident that together we will figure out how to make the best of this challenging situation.

One important thing that we can all come together around is maximizing the benefits of social distancing to do our small part in mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hopefully we can all continue to be mindful of not gathering in large groups, conducting excellent health hygiene routines, and practicing safe behaviors when in public spaces where we might come into close contact with others. I'll be the first to admit that changing my behavior in this way has felt strange, and maybe like "too much" at times, but the best advice from doctors and epidemiologists right now is to be "better safe than sorry."

Finally, I want to remind members of the community that if they, or any member of their family with whom they will be in contact, will be in an area that has been designated as Level 2 or Level 3 by the CDC over our Spring Break, we would ask that you be in touch with us as soon as possible. Should anyone be in this category, we will be requiring a 14-day self-quarantine outside of that area before that person returns to our community. We would also strongly discourage any community members from traveling to any areas where a high number of COVID-19 cases have been detected.

In closing, I share these wise words from someone who lived through far more dire circumstances, Viktor Frankl, in his book Man's Search for Meaning.

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Let's keep communicating and helping each other in the days ahead. If you have ideas you'd like to share, or need help in any way, please don't hesitate to reach out to me, your Division Director, or the teacher who you think can best help.

All the best,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 9, 2020

Dear Wooster Community,

After much research, conversation, and thought, the leadership team and Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of Wooster School are in agreement that we should pilot our Virtual Learning School Days plan over the next four days. Given ongoing concerns about COVID-19 and in keeping with what appears to be emerging best practice in terms of social distancing and mitigating the spread of the coronavirus, this also gives us the opportunity to reduce social gathering and contact among our students and faculty significantly prior to our Spring Break.

The plan will be as follows.

Today, March 9

This will be our last full day of school this week. So as to fully begin the process of social distancing as soon as possible, we will be canceling all after-school activities today and will be asking all students to leave campus at dismissal at 3:45 pm.

Tuesday and Wednesday, March 10 - 11

Students will receive assignments from teachers on these two days much like they would on a snow day. We are asking teachers to be sure to have work for students posted early each day. Also, while students are at home, teachers will be here at school learning more about distance learning and preparing to begin more structured virtual learning on Thursday and Friday.

Thursday, March 12

This will be our first full day of virtual learning. Students should plan to be ready to engage with teachers from home as if it were a normal day. Though it is unlikely that virtual classes will be as long as "in person" classes, the structure of a normal day will be preserved. More information will be forthcoming to students and parents as to the requirements for this day of virtual learning.

Friday, March 13

This was scheduled to be a half-day work day, but we will instead do a half-day of virtual learning. The special schedule for this day will be posted prior to Friday. We are suggesting that parents work with students on meaningful work around the house/yard for the other half of the day. Deep cleaning should be at the top of everyone's list!

To be clear, all scheduled school activities and meetings will be canceled during these four days. We will endeavor to reschedule as many as possible after Spring Break.

While we acknowledge that this plan will require changes to family plans and will present logistical challenges for some, we do have examples from the past -- hurricanes, power outages, nor'easters -- that have shown us that we can be flexible and resilient when we need to be. Creating more social distance at this critical juncture should help to mitigate the risk of infection and its spread among community members, and it gives us the opportunity to prepare for future closings should they be necessary. We thank you for your understanding and patience in this matter and would encourage you to keep checking email for future messages regarding our efforts relative to the novel coronavirus.

All the best,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 6, 2020

Good afternoon,

After spending the last week immersed in information about COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus, I wanted to follow up our initial update with another that deals with opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is practical: what to do if you or someone in your household contracts, or comes in contact with someone who is diagnosed as having COVID-19? Given the current pattern, it is not unlikely that this will begin happening to members of our community. The second is hopeful, and a narrative that follows the data that is being collected and analyzed to a conclusion that is perhaps more hopeful and reasonable than what we might be seeing and hearing on some media outlets, particularly when we think about effects on young people.

As you might expect, our students and families are responding to these new challenges with flexibility and in the spirit of Self-Help. Yesterday, teachers and students pitched in to serve food to reduce the frequency of different people touching serving utensils, and our teachers are pitching in to help wipe down classroom surfaces during the day. Over the next week, we’ll also be working together to explore options for distance learning, should we need to establish a system.

I wish all of you a safe and restful weekend.

All the best,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

What to do if you or someone in your household contracts, or comes in contact with someone who is diagnosed as having COVID-19?

At present, Wooster School is not drawing a distinction between someone who knows that they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, someone who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, or someone who has a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. For safety purposes and to minimize the risk of the spread of the virus in the Wooster community, all three instances should be handled with similar levels of caution.

Step One: Contact local health authorities and your own healthcare professional. Most healthcare facilities are now recommending that you CALL FIRST, before visiting so as to reduce that risk that healthcare workers become infected.

Step Two: Keep your student(s) at home and call Wooster School to fill us in on the situation. Your first point of contact should be our nurse Anna Jette, at (203) 830-3925.

Step Three: Restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis. Here is a link to that procedure if you’ve been exposed and/or diagnosed. Within that link is another link to what to do if someone in your home has contracted COVID-19.

Email sent to Wooster parents, faculty, staff on March 3, 2020

Dear Wooster Community,

As the world-wide situation involving the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to evolve, I wanted to share Wooster School’s thinking, planning, and actions relative to keeping our community safe, functioning, and positive now and into the future.

For our school community, and each family, it is important to start with good information. This is an evolving situation, so information -- and our understanding of what it means for us -- will change as more is gathered. Our goal is to understand the nature of this phenomenon, particularly the risks to members of our community, and then respond appropriately based upon what is practical and possible given the reality and constraints of the situation.

Part of our learning is always about context as well, so we are also looking for historical and/or comparable situations which will help us to better understand this current one. Being aware of our emotions is also important. As we wade through the information we inevitably will experience emotions like fear and anxiety -- our bodies evolutionary reaction to perceived danger -- and perhaps anger as well (this has to be someone’s fault, right?). We shouldn’t try to avoid these feelings, but we should also do our best to put them in context while assessing our own situation and thinking about how best to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

So as not to resort to a stream of long emails (which we know community members might not read!), we have created a page which can be accessed through Quicklinks on the website which will have a section for updates and links to news and other information that we think is useful. For now, here is an update as to our thinking and action. You will receive a notification when future updates are posted to the webpage.

As a final note, I would re-emphasize the value of calm, well-informed discourse on the subject of COVID-19. We are all in this together and the more that we support each other and face the perceived risks with intelligence and equanimity, the better the outcomes will be for Wooster School and our families.

All the best,

Matt Byrnes
Head of School

What We Know and Useful Links

We've been processing lots of data, bulletins, and news reports -- and exchanging information with other schools and associations. Here are links to what we believe are the most reliable sources of information to date:

Well-Being During This Crisis

Health Hygiene

  1. A helpful article on the spread of the virus.
  2. Practice proper health hygiene protocols. Here is a link to a helpful infographic.
  3. Do not touch your face -- particularly eyes, nose, and ears.
  4. Do not come to school if you are feeling sick and/or have a fever.
  5. Never share any drinking or eating receptacles or utensils.
  6. Pay more attention to sanitizing surfaces at home and in your car on a regular basis, particularly after groups or individuals have been using them.

More information about preparing at home for the virus.

Health Hygiene and Disinfection at Wooster School

  • Teachers will frequently remind students of health hygiene protocols.
  • We will begin disinfecting classroom surfaces at least once per day with two electro-static disinfection systems that we have purchased for this purpose.

Visitors to Campus

  • We are carefully vetting any planned visitors to campus. At present, we are not allowing planned visits from any persons who have been to, or interacted with, anyone from a Level 3 or Level 2 (see CDC warnings) area since January 1, 2020.

Student/Family Travel

  • Following the guidelines for student travel shared by the CDC, and given the fluid nature of the situation (the expectation that more cases of the coronavirus will be reported in areas that are as yet free from any confirmed cases), Wooster School has put a moratorium on school-related trips outside of the United States until further notice. This includes the Spring Break trips to Cuba and the April Jamaica trip. We will be evaluating Middle School trips as the situation develops, but there are currently no restrictions on domestic travel.
  • Seniors will be prohibited from traveling to any areas for their Senior Independent Study projects with reported “active transmission” of COVID-19. Active transmission refers to areas where cases are being detected as a result of interactions with other local community members, as opposed to isolated cases resulting from contact with an individual who has recently been in an area of active transmission.
  • We are strongly suggesting that Wooster individuals and/or families not make trips outside the US for Spring Break, and/or to areas of the US where active transmission of COVID-19 is occuring.

Possible School Disruption

  • Though we currently feel that this is a worst-case scenario, we are developing contingency plans for continued, remote learning for all students should it become necessary to close the school for any reason.

Contact or Infection Contingencies

  • If at any point, you suspect that you, your child, or any other family member has been exposed to COVID-19, and/or is showing symptoms, please refrain from returning to campus. Please reach out to your local health care provider and then the appropriate Division Director here at Wooster School to discuss next steps.
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